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SCC to review SEC’s outage issues

The State Corporation Commission (SCC) will be reviewing Southside Electric Cooperative’s (SEC) handling of the Valentine’s weekend ice storm that left thousands in the company’s 18-county service area without power, some for as long as two weeks.

SEC President and CEO Jeff Edwards confirmed Monday, March 8, that the utility company has received notice from the SCC that they will be reviewing the company’s restoration procedures and preparedness.

Jeff Edwards

The SCC is a state agency with regulatory authority over many business and economic interests in Virginia, including public utility regulation.

Edwards said SEC would be providing the SCC with information regarding pre-storm, during the storm, and post-storm activities.

SEC said it too would review what went well and what changes may need to be made.

During and following the ice storm, SEC and Edwards have come under fire as to how the company handled the widespread, lengthy power outages and what some say was a lack of preparedness and communication with its members.

SEC Vice President of Operations Brad Furr said the cooperative is fully committed to preparing for the storms that come their way but admitted the company’s communications need to be better utilized.

“In all power restoration circumstances, there are uncontrollable variables,” Furr said. “With 80% of SEC’s service area damaged by the recent ice storms, restoration was extremely widespread.”

SEC maintains that wet and muddy conditions were one of the issues linemen faced during the power outages that caused delays in service being restored.

“Had SEC gone into the recent ice storms with dry ground, instead of very wet conditions, moving materials and equipment around the system would have been much easier,” Furr said.

Edwards said it was the magnitude of the damage caused by the ice storm and not lack of preparation that made power restoration incredibly difficult.

“All districts of our 18-county service area suffered damages, some more substantial than others, by ice that covered trees and electrical lines – in some places, there was as much as three quarters of an inch of ice that formed. During and following the storms, there were countless downed trees and extremely wet ground, complicating fast restoration.” Edwards said. “We thank our members for their resolve to get through the extremely difficult circumstances of the recent ice storms. They were frightened, cold and scared, which is understandable.”

According to Edwards, at all times during the storm, the full operations crew was fully committed to outage restoration as quickly and safely as possible.

In response to the weather forecast, Edwards said SEC strategically pre-staged significant amounts of materials and personnel to be best prepared to restore power.

According to Edwards, in advance of the freezing weather, 18 mutual-aid crews, 10 contract crews and eight contract tree crews were brought on board, as well as 26 of the cooperative’s own restoration crews. Subsequently, on Monday, February 15, an additional 10 contract crews arrived.

“Going forward, additional crews were added as they became available after it was determined that the forecasted ice storm did not impact their home territory,” Edwards said. 

Crews arrived from South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Indiana and Maryland worked to restore power.

According to Edwards, on Friday, Feb. 12, SEC had 191 workers prepared to handle the storm. By Feb.15, SEC had 269 workers handling the storm, and by Feb. 16, there were over 300 working to restore power. By the end of the restoration process, SEC had more than 900 workers in the field to reconstruct the power grid.